Insider’s Guide: Getting Insurance to Pay for Residential Treatment

imagesThis is our second installment on how to get insurance to pay for residential treatment and therapeutic programs. Below is some great information to help you beat the insurance companies at their own game. Insurance companies count on your ignorance, laziness and distractibility to avoid paying for services they are legally obligated to cover. 

With the Affordable Healthcare Act and the Mental Health Parity Act in full swing it’s time to learn how to get the most out of the insurance you pay for. We’ve included some tricks, strategies and how-to’s to help you out. Though we’re focusing on Residential Treatment for our discussion here, this info is applicable to therapeutic programs like wilderness programs, therapeutic boarding schools and intensive outpatient programs.

Ok, let’s get started with some basics… 

What If I Need Additional Help?

First, read through everything below. These strategies are time consuming and require steady attention but they are not impossible. If you still don’t feel confident in holding your insurer accountable, contact us for a free consult and we’ll help you figure out how to move forward. 

What is the Insurance Company’s Criteria for Residential Treatment?

…Or more importantly, how does an insurer define residential treatment? Each insurer has their own definition but most have virtually identical criteria. For our purposes, residential treatment is defined as specialized mental, behavioral health or substance abuse treatment that occurs in a residential (overnight) treatment center where the provider is responsible for clinical service, safety, shelter, and food.

Licensure differs by state, but these facilities are typically designated either as residential, subacute, or intermediate care facilities and may occur in care systems that provide multiple levels of care. Residential treatment is 24 hours per day and often requires a minimum of one physician (or psychiatrist) visit per week in a facility based setting. 

What Specific Criteria Do They Look For?

Now, let’s drill down a bit more and look at some of the more common criteria requirements insurance companies are looking for when determining whether to pay for residential treatment to a struggling teen or young adult. 

  • Was there a sincere attempt to first use evidence-based outpatient therapy in the home community by a licensed professional before residential treatment was requested and outpatient therapy did not work? Basically, they want evidence that you tried outpatient therapy with weekly sessions (or more often) and because it was not effective, a more intensive level of care like residential treatment was justified.
  • Prior to admission, did you contact your health plan for list of in-network residential treatment options? More on this later – what to do if you can not find a good option.
  • Is there uncontrollable risk-taking to self or others or other dangerous behavior?
  • Has there been a documentable and rapid decrease in level of functioning in one or more life domains. Another way to describe it is a decline in functioning resulting in the ability to perform self-care. 
  • Is there a likelihood of no improvement in current environment (ie. home or college)
  • Is there a reasonable expectation that patient will improve in residential setting and be able to return to outpatient therapy for aftercare? 

How to Request this Higher Level of Care?

Now that you understand the criteria, let’s talk about how to actually request residential treatment. 

  • Write a letter strongly recommending admission to residential treatment 
  • Provide copies of assessments and testing performed by a licensed professional that indicate 1) a formal diagnosis and 2) specific recommendations that list residential treatment.
  • Explain how outpatient therapy has not been successful
  • Explain why current circumstances make it unlikely that patient will show improvement (ie. Improvement is not likely in home setting due to social stressors such as negative peers that sell drugs but remain in the environment)
  • Document unsafe, declining behaviors – show symptoms and behaviors that represent a decline from usual state and include either self-injurious or risk-taking behavior that cannot be managed outside of 24 hr care. Can your kid maintain abstinence outside of 24 hr care? 
  • Explain that the residential treatment program uses evidence-based clinical interventions.
  • Request the residential treatment program directly contact your insurer for pre-authorization. Pre-authorization is the insurance company’s way of giving formal permission to use a higher (and more expensive) level of care. Make sure to obtain the tracking number and verification of the call from the residential treatment program. If approved, obtain written authorization confirming admission approval.

After you send off your request, your insurer should should respond in 5 days. Don’t wait that long – call them every day to find out the status of your request. Yes, seriously – call every day. 

Accepted! Now Some Additional Insurance Mandates

The insurance company accepted your request (more below on what happens when they do not accept it) and a wave of relief comes over you planning for some quiet time once your kid is safely transitioned. But before you get too comfy, there are a few things you want to make sure the residential treatment program will do to ensure insurance covers as much as possible. It’s easier to ask these questions during the admissions process rather than at discharge. Here’s a list of what to look for or ask for:

  • A basic physical during admission (urine screening for drug facility)
  • Onsite nursing and 24hr access to med care
  • Multidisciplinary assessment (also called a Biopsychosocial Intake) performed within 72 hr of admission, including information obtained from patient’s previous providers (ie. therapist, primary care physician)
  • Individual therapy with a licensed therapist (ie. LPC, LCSW, LMFT) at least one time per week
  • Weekly meetings with doctor for medication management
  • Weekly family therapy
  • Discharge plan created one week after admission which acts as a set of exit criteria
  • Licensed in the state in which they are located. Some facilities are owned by huge companies in another state. Make sure they are credentialed and licensed.

Denied. Now on to The Appeal Process

Denials are just a way of life in the therapeutic treatment world but it’s certainly not the end. Here are some information on what to do when you experience a denial.

  • First Thing – Do not let the denial get you mad and do not attempt to use logic, common sense or science to understand why. Insurance is a business and their business model is take in money and pay for as little service as possible – period. 
  • If residential treatment is verbally denied, request written denial. They must deny in writing and often will send the residential treatment program as well as the insured person a copy. 
  • Do not just ignore the denial and send your kid off unless you are willing to pay out of pocket and work your tail off at discharge to get the insurer to pay for it.
  • How to appeal depends upon the reason for denial. The insurance company will likely list specific criteria either your kid or the residential treatment program did not meet.
  • If the insurer states that residential treatment is not a covered benefit but they offer  other mental/behavioral health benefits, they are required by law to pay. In Harlick v Blue Cross of California – On August 26, 2011 the court confirmed that California’s Mental Health Parity Act requires health plans to provide coverage of “all medically necessary treatment” for “severe mental illnesses” under “the same financial terms as those applied to physical illnesses,” and are obligated to pay for residential treatment for people with eating disorders even if the policy excludes residential treatment.

And It’s Still Denied – What Next?

If you submit an appeal with additional information and site the law but still are denied or hear nothing, you can request an independent review from your state’s regulatory body that oversees insurance compliance. It’s amazing how quickly insurance companies can ‘find missing paperwork’ or reverse a denial when regulators and attorney’s get involved. 

  • Send a certified-mail cover letter describing the dispute
  • Provide all relevant evaluations, assessments and testing you already sent to the insurer
  • Submit a doctor’s letter stating care is medically necessary
  • You can also hire an attorney that specializes in insurance issues like this. They are often worth their specialist price tag.

Plan B – If You Can Afford It

If residential is denied and you don’t want to push the insurer for whatever reason, you can pay out of pocket for room and board and try to get the clinical services covered. This approach is often what is equivalent to out-of-network coverage. The insurer is more likely to cover outpatient therapy, group therapy and medication management (virtually the same as if client was living at home and going to therapy).

You can also request that the residential treatment primary therapist get a single case agreement which forces the insurer to pay at in-network rate and you only owe the copay, as usual. 

What if Our Family Member is at Therapeutic Boarding School?

With the growth of therapeutic boarding schools, we’ve received a ton of questions about how insurance pays for the clinical aspects of these hybrid programs. Here are some tricks we’ve picked up over the years:

  • Think like the insurance company – they want to hear your son or daughter is being referred to as a patient and not a student.
  • Make sure to request a physical assessment is done at admissions. This promotes the perspective that he/she is a patient and not a student. Remember – we want the insurer to understand this is a therapeutic program, not as much an academic program.
  • We also want to ensure the program is keeping daily records such as treatment plan updates, nursing and medical notes and service notes – health plans will want copies. We want to be documenting progress as well as setbacks. 

When we conduct placement services, we always request the therapeutic program develop a treatment plan with some specific exit criteria. The first day of treatment is the first day of discharge planning. Some plans will want exit criteria so err on the side of having the program provide it early on. It’s also a good clinical practice to give the providers a clear target. 

In Which State Should Insurance Regulators Be Notified if Insurance Refuses to Cooperate?

The state in which treatment is being provided is where insurance regulators should be contacted if your insurance company refuses to play nicely. The state in which you live may be where your insurance is attached, but legal oversight for provision of service and insurance regulation is in the treatment state. 

Can Insurance Pay for Services Retroactively?

Theoretically, yes. Practically, it’s pretty difficult and will require regular attention and contact with the insurer. They will likely ‘lose’ applications, claim forms and anything else you send. If you get insurance to agree to pay for residential treatment or other therapeutic services after treatment has started, you can request for retroactive coverage. It’s best to write a letter (and send it certified mail and keep a copy for your records) stating why you didn’t understand or it was not stated clearly in a policy that treatment was covered. 

Will Insurance Cover Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP)?

Partial Hospitalization Programs or PHPs is typically a level of care designed for individuals who need structured mental health, behavioral health or substance abuse programming but do not need 24-hour supervision (ie. inpatient or hosplitalization). Many hospitals and residential treatment programs offer partial hospitalization or day treatment services. Good PHPs are designed to provide support, education, medical monitoring and accountability during the hours of the day often identified as most troublesome for patients. Patients participate in therapeutic groups, structured activities and discharge planning similar to those offered in the inpatient and residential programs. Many patients who have been in an inpatient or residential program can “step down” to this level of care because it continues to provide a high amount of structure and support. 

Insurance generally covers PHP at a per diem rate (daily rate) but will not cover overnight which the hospital or treatment program may charge extra for. Make sure to clearly understand how the treatment center charges for PHP before signing up. Also make sure insurance covers it and what portion it covers. 

So we covered several of the topics and tricks that can help you navigate the insurance company maze when it comes to paying for residential treatment. If you need additional help, contact us today – help@fonthillbehavioralhealth.com 

Program Review: Veritas Collaborative

In April 2014, Dr. Marino and I visited Veritas Collaborative in Durham, NC, a 2 year old for profit eating disorder treatment program specializing in children and adolescents. Don’t let the age of this program fool you – they clearly know what they’re doing and have some clinical and business heavy-weights in their corner.VC dining pic

 

Below is a write-up of our experiences, thoughts and additional info we gathered together just for you. As always, our perspective as clinicians may be uniquely different from those of perspective clients or their parents. We highly encourage you to do your own research before committing to any program.  

What They Do

Veritas provides Inpatient, Residential Treatment and Partial Hospitalization for adolescents and children with eating disorders. What is key in our description is what is not listed. This means, during a time when other programs do everything for anyone, Veritas has committed to specializing. They have 26 inpatient/acute residential beds and 12 partial hospitalization beds. Below is a description of the three different levels of care (directly from the Veritas Collaborative site).

Inpatient hospitalization is the most intensive level of treatment available. Inpatient treatment is necessary for those who need frequent nursing care or are medically unstable (as determined by vital signs, lab abnormalities, or general physical and psychological condition). Patients who are severely entrenched in their disorders are depressed, suicidal, or are a danger to themselves or others, are also appropriate for this level of care. These patients see a medical doctor daily.

Acute Residential Treatment is a 24-hour monitored, structured treatment program for medically stable patients who still need constant supervision. Nursing care is still provided around the clock, but patients see doctors less frequently. Some individuals are admitted directly to residential treatment while others first go through inpatient treatment and them move to the residential program.VC bdrm pic

The Partial Hospitalization level of care is appropriate for patients who need structured programming but do not need 24-hour supervision. Patients participate in individual and group therapy, structured activities, and programming around meals similar to what is offered in the inpatient and residential programs. Some patients admit directly to this level of care, but many “step down” from the residential or inpatient levels, as partial programming still provides a high amount of structure and support. These patients are medically stable, and can move more readily while maintaining appropriate, non-disordered behaviors without direct supervision.

Another key feature to the Veritas program is the pervasive use of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), both of which are evidence-based treatments for eating disorders and co-occurring mental health issues.

Who They Serve

Veritas serves children and adolescents (both male/female) 10-19 years old from around the country experiencing eating disorders. It’s rare for an eating disorder program to serve younger adolescents and children which is a huge plus. It’s also less common for a program to work with male clients. VC pic

Location

Veritas is located at 615 Douglas St #500, Durham, NC 27705. They sit right next to Duke University. They are 20 minutes from the Raleigh-Durham International Airport (super, super easy airport to travel through) and 2 hours from the Charlotte airport. The parking deck is easily accessed from the road. The building is nondescript but that’s works nicely for those seeking a more discrete treatment experience. 

Fees + Insurance + Financing 

Yes, they accept insurance and will work with you to figure out what is covered.

As with most treatment centers, there are many outside financing agencies that specifically work with mental, behavioral and substance abuse programs.

A quick word about their fees – they wouldn’t say. Not a peep about daily or monthly rates which, in our humble opinion is no bueno. See below in the Reviews section for commentary on this. It’s not unusual for programs to defer questions about cost but they eventually give us an idea (normally as a monthly rate). But not Veritas. 

Reviews

It’s really disappointing and feels a bit awkward when we have a hard time finding negative reviews of a program. Either they’ve done a good job of scrubbing the internet of nasty feedback or…. they actually provide great service. From all around the intertubes we scoured parent blogs, professional review sites as well as the more general review sites. So what’s out there? What’s the overall judgement of this fledgling treatment center? Mostly just really nice praise for the staff, treatment and program as a whole. The thing that kept on coming up over and over was Veritas’s involvement of the whole family – which happens to be another key feature they told us about on our tour. Family work is at the core of how they impact the client’s treatment. 

One negative in our view is discussion of cost. We really, really like programs to be up front about what the estimated costs for service will be. It’s not that we expect a solid dollar amount since we know as well as the next professional that expenses can go up or down depending on loads of variables. But what we do want to see is an effort towards transparency, especially with pricing. When asked for pricing we were told ‘it depends‘ but would not commit to a daily or monthly rate and nothing is listed on their site. 

Other than the cost issue we experienced, there’s not much else for us to complain about. We’ll definitely continue looking for bad reviews and update this post. 

Contact Information

Reach out to Kelly Robinson at krobinson@veritascollaborative.com or 919.698.8574 to learn more or take a tour. You can also schedule a tour directly from their site here: Schedule a Tour.

Final Thoughts

Overall, we encourage perspective clients to take a tour and consider the program. It’s best to higher an educational consultant or case manager to go with you. They will ask detailed questions you may not think to ask or just feel way too uncomfortable to ask. This is a decision you should not make alone. 

The DSM: 97 Yrs of History and Controversy

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association, offers a common language and standard criteria for the classification of mental disorders. Basically, it’s the organized language of disorder. Often referred to as the therapist’s bible, it’s used, or relied upon, by clinicians, researchers, psychiatric drug regulation agencies, health insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, the legal system, and policy makers together with alternatives such as the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD), produced by the World Health Organization (WHO). The DSM is now in its fifth edition, DSM-5, published on May 18, 2013.

The DSM evolved from systems for collecting census and psychiatric hospital statistics, and from a United States Army manual. Revisions since its first publication in 1952 have incrementally added to the total number of mental disorders, although also removing those no longer considered to be mental disorders.

The International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD), produced by the World Health Organization (WHO), is the other commonly used manual for mental disorders. It is distinguished from the DSM in that it covers health as a whole. It is in fact the official diagnostic system for mental disorders in the US, but is used more widely in Europe and other parts of the world. The coding system used in the DSM is designed to correspond with the codes used in the ICD, although not all codes may match at all times because the two publications are not revised synchronously.

While the DSM has been praised for standardizing psychiatric diagnostic categories and criteria, it has also generated controversy and criticism. Critics, including the National Institute of Mental Health, argue that the DSM represents an unscientific and subjective system. There are ongoing issues concerning the validity and reliability of the diagnostic categories; the reliance on superficial symptoms; the use of artificial dividing lines between categories and from ‘normality’; possible cultural bias; medicalization of human distress. The publication of the DSM, with tightly guarded copyrights, now makes APA over $5 million a year, historically totaling over $100 million.

Many mental health professionals use the manual to determine and help communicate a patient’s diagnosis after an evaluation; hospitals, clinics, and insurance companies in the US also generally require a DSM diagnosis for all patients treated. The DSM can be used clinically in this way, and also to categorize patients using diagnostic criteria for research purposes. Studies done on specific disorders often recruit patients whose symptoms match the criteria listed in the DSM for that disorder. An international survey of psychiatrists in 66 countries comparing use of the ICD-10 and DSM-IV found the former was more often used for clinical diagnosis while the latter was more valued for research.

DSM-5, and all previous editions, are registered trademarks owned by the American Psychiatric Association (APA).

The current version of the DSM characterizes a mental disorder as “a clinically significant behavioral or psychological syndrome or pattern that occurs in an individual [which] is associated with present distress…or disability…or with a significant increased risk of suffering.” It also notes that “…no definition adequately specifies precise boundaries for the concept of ‘mental disorder’…different situations call for different definitions”. It states that “there is no assumption that each category of mental disorder is a completely discrete entity with absolute boundaries dividing it from other mental disorders or from no mental disorder” (APA, 1994 and 2000). There are attempts to adjust the wording for the upcoming DSM-V.

The initial impetus for developing a classification of mental disorders in the United States was the need to collect statistical information. The first official attempt was the 1840 census, which used a single category, “idiocy/insanity”. Three years later, the American Statistical Association made an official protest to the U.S. House of Representatives stating that “the most glaring and remarkable errors are found in the statements respecting nosology, prevalence of insanity, blindness, deafness, and dumbness, among the people of this nation” and pointing out that in many towns African-Americans were all marked as insane, and the statistics were essentially useless.

The Association of Medical Superintendents of American Institutions for the Insane was formed in 1844, changing its name in 1892 to the American Medico-Psychological Association, and in 1921 to the present American Psychiatric Association (APA).

Edward Jarvis and later Francis Amasa Walker helped expand the census, from 2 volumes in 1870 to 25 volumes in 1880. Frederick H. Wines was appointed to write a 582-page volume called “Report on the Defective, Dependent, and Delinquent Classes of the Population of the United States, As Returned at the Tenth Census (June 1, 1880)” (published 1888). Wines used seven categories of mental illness: dementiadipsomania (uncontrollable craving for alcohol), epilepsymaniamelancholiamonomania and paresis. These categories were also adopted by the Association.

In 1917, together with the National Commission on Mental Hygiene (now Mental Health America), the APA developed a new guide for mental hospitals called the “Statistical Manual for the Use of Institutions for the Insane”. This included 22 diagnoses and would be revised several times by the APA over the years. Along with the New York Academy of Medicine, the APA also provided the psychiatric nomenclature subsection of the US general medical guide, the Standard Classified Nomenclature of Disease, referred to as the “Standard.”

1952: DSM-I

World War II saw the large-scale involvement of US psychiatrists in the selection, processing, assessment, and treatment of soldiers. This moved the focus away from mental institutions and traditional clinical perspectives. A committee headed by psychiatrist Brigadier General William C. Menninger developed a new classification scheme called Medical 203, that was issued in 1943 as a War Department Technical Bulletin under the auspices of the Office of the Surgeon General. The foreword to the DSM-I states the US Navy had itself made some minor revisions but “the Army established a much more sweeping revision, abandoning the basic outline of the Standard and attempting to express present day concepts of mental disturbance. This nomenclature eventually was adopted by all Armed Forces”, and “assorted modifications of the Armed Forces nomenclature [were] introduced into many clinics and hospitals by psychiatrists returning from military duty.” The Veterans Administration also adopted a slightly modified version of Medical 203. In 1949, the World Health Organization published the sixth revision of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases (ICD), which included a section on mental disorders for the first time. The foreword to DSM-1 states this “categorized mental disorders in rubrics similar to those of the Armed Forces nomenclature.” An APA Committee on Nomenclature and Statistics was empowered to develop a version specifically for use in the United States, to standardize the diverse and confused usage of different documents. In 1950, the APA committee undertook a review and consultation. It circulated an adaptation of Medical 203, the VA system, and the Standard’s Nomenclature to approximately 10% of APA members. 46% replied, of which 93% approved, and after some further revisions (resulting in its being called DSM-I), the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders was approved in 1951 and published in 1952. The structure and conceptual framework were the same as in Medical 203, and many passages of text were identical. The manual was 130 pages long and listed 106 mental disorders. These included several categories of “personality disturbance”, generally distinguished from “neurosis” (nervousness, egodystonic). In 1952, the APA listed homosexuality in the DSM as a sociopathic personality disturbance. Homosexuality: A Psychoanalytic Study of Male Homosexuals, a large-scale 1962 study of homosexuality, was used to justify inclusion of the disorder as a supposed pathological hidden fear of the opposite sex caused by traumatic parent–child relationships. This view was widely influential in the medical profession. In 1956, however, the psychologist Evelyn Hooker performed a study that compared the happiness and well-adjusted nature of self-identified homosexual men with heterosexual men and found no difference. Her study stunned the medical community and made her a hero to many gay men and lesbians, but homosexuality remained in the DSM until May 1974.

1968: DSM-II

In the 1960s, there were many challenges to the concept of mental illness itself. These challenges came from psychiatrists like Thomas Szasz, who argued that mental illness was a myth used to disguise moral conflicts; from sociologists such as Erving Goffman, who said mental illness was merely another example of how society labels and controls non-conformists; from behavioral psychologists who challenged psychiatry’s fundamental reliance on unobservable phenomena; and from gay rights activists who criticised the APA’s listing of homosexuality as a mental disorder. A study published in Scienceby Rosenhan received much publicity and was viewed as an attack on the efficacy of psychiatric diagnosis.

Although the APA was closely involved in the next significant revision of the mental disorder section of the ICD (version 8 in 1968), it decided to go ahead with a revision of the DSM. It was published in 1968, listed 182 disorders, and was 134 pages long. It was quite similar to the DSM-I. The term “reaction” was dropped, but the term “neurosis” was retained. Both the DSM-I and the DSM-II reflected the predominant psychodynamic psychiatry, although they also included biological perspectives and concepts from Kraepelin’s system of classification. Symptoms were not specified in detail for specific disorders. Many were seen as reflections of broad underlying conflicts or maladaptive reactions to life problems, rooted in a distinction between neurosis and psychosis (roughly, anxiety/depression broadly in touch with reality, or hallucinations/delusions appearing disconnected from reality). Sociological and biological knowledge was incorporated, in a model that did not emphasize a clear boundary between normality and abnormality. The idea that personality disorders did not involve emotional distress was discarded.

An influential 1974 paper by Robert Spitzer and Joseph L. Fleiss demonstrated that the second edition of the DSM (DSM-II) was an unreliable diagnostic tool.They found that different practitioners using the DSM-II were rarely in agreement when diagnosing patients with similar problems. In reviewing previous studies of 18 major diagnostic categories, Fleiss and Spitzer concluded that “there are no diagnostic categories for which reliability is uniformly high. Reliability appears to be only satisfactory for three categories: mental deficiency, organic brain syndrome (but not its subtypes), and alcoholism. The level of reliability is no better than fair for psychosis and schizophrenia and is poor for the remaining categories”.

1974: DSM-II (7th printing)

As described by Ronald Bayer, a psychiatrist and gay rights activist, specific protests by gay rights activists against the APA began in 1970, when the organization held its convention in San Francisco. The activists disrupted the conference by interrupting speakers and shouting down and ridiculing psychiatrists who viewed homosexuality as a mental disorder. In 1971, gay rights activist Frank Kameny worked with the Gay Liberation Front collective to demonstrate against the APA’s convention. At the 1971 conference, Kameny grabbed the microphone and yelled, “Psychiatry is the enemy incarnate. Psychiatry has waged a relentless war of extermination against us. You may take this as a declaration of war against you.”

This activism occurred in the context of a broader anti-psychiatry movement that had come to the fore in the 1960s and was challenging the legitimacy of psychiatric diagnosis. Anti-psychiatry activists protested at the same APA conventions, with some shared slogans and intellectual foundations.

Presented with data from researchers such as Alfred Kinsey and Evelyn Hooker, the seventh printing of the DSM-II, in 1974, no longer listed homosexuality as a category of disorder. After a vote by the APA trustees in 1973, and confirmed by the wider APA membership in 1974, the diagnosis was replaced with the category of “sexual orientation disturbance”.

1980: DSM-III

In 1974, the decision to create a new revision of the DSM was made, and Robert Spitzer was selected as chairman of the task force. The initial impetus was to make the DSM nomenclature consistent with the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD), published by the World Health Organization. The revision took on a far wider mandate under the influence and control of Spitzer and his chosen committee members. One goal was to improve the uniformity and validity of psychiatric diagnosis in the wake of a number of critiques, including the famous Rosenhan experiment. There was also a need to standardize diagnostic practices within the US and with other countries after research showed that psychiatric diagnoses differed markedly between Europe and the USA. The establishment of these criteria was an attempt to facilitate the pharmaceutical regulatory process.

The criteria adopted for many of the mental disorders were taken from the Research Diagnostic Criteria (RDC) and Feighner Criteria, which had just been developed by a group of research-orientated psychiatrists based primarily at Washington University in St. Louis and the New York State Psychiatric Institute. Other criteria, and potential new categories of disorder, were established by consensus during meetings of the committee, as chaired by Spitzer. A key aim was to base categorization on colloquial English descriptive language (which would be easier to use by federal administrative offices), rather than assumptions of etiology, although its categorical approach assumed each particular pattern of symptoms in a category reflected a particular underlying pathology (an approach described as “neo-Kraepelinian”). The psychodynamic or physiologic view was abandoned, in favor of a regulatory or legislativemodel. A new “multiaxial” system attempted to yield a picture more amenable to a statistical population census, rather than just a simple diagnosis. Spitzer argued that “mental disorders are a subset of medical disorders” but the task force decided on the DSM statement: “Each of the mental disorders is conceptualized as a clinically significant behavioral or psychological syndrome.” The personality disorders were placed on axis II along with mental retardation.

The first draft of the DSM-III was prepared within a year. Many new categories of disorder were introduced, while some were deleted or changed. A number of the unpublished documents discussing and justifying the changes have recently come to light.[34] Field trials sponsored by the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) were conducted between 1977 and 1979 to test the reliability of the new diagnoses. A controversy emerged regarding deletion of the concept of neurosis, a mainstream of psychoanalytic theory and therapy but seen as vague and unscientific by the DSM task force. Faced with enormous political opposition, the DSM-III was in serious danger of not being approved by the APA Board of Trustees unless “neurosis” was included in some capacity; a political compromise reinserted the term in parentheses after the word “disorder” in some cases. Additionally, the diagnosis of ego-dystonic homosexuality replaced the DSM-II category of “sexual orientation disturbance”.

Finally published in 1980, the DSM-III was 494 pages and listed 265 diagnostic categories. It rapidly came into widespread international use and has been termed a revolution or transformation in psychiatry. However, Robert Spitzer later criticized his own work on it in an interview with Adam Curtis, saying it led to the medicalization of 20-30 percent of the population who may not have had any serious mental problems.

When DSM-III was published, the developers made extensive claims about the reliability of the radically new diagnostic system they had devised, which relied on data from special field trials. However, according to a 1994 article by Stuart A. Kirk:

Twenty years after the reliability problem became the central focus of DSM-III, there is still not a single multi-site study showing that DSM (any version) is routinely used with high reliably by regular mental health clinicians. Nor is there any credible evidence that any version of the manual has greatly increased its reliability beyond the previous version. There are important methodological problems that limit the generalisability of most reliability studies. Each reliability study is constrained by the training and supervision of the interviewers, their motivation and commitment to diagnostic accuracy, their prior skill, the homogeneity of the clinical setting in regard to patient mix and base rates, and the methodological rigor achieved by the investigator…

1987: DSM-III-R

In 1987, the DSM-III-R was published as a revision of the DSM-III, under the direction of Spitzer. Categories were renamed and reorganized, and significant changes in criteria were made. Six categories were deleted while others were added. Controversial diagnoses, such as pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder and masochistic personality disorder, were considered and discarded. “Sexual orientation disturbance” was also removed and was largely subsumed under “sexual disorder not otherwise specified”, which can include “persistent and marked distress about one’s sexual orientation.”Altogether, the DSM-III-R contained 292 diagnoses and was 567 pages long. Further efforts were made for the diagnoses to be purely descriptive, although the introductory text stated that for at least some disorders, “particularly the Personality Disorders, the criteria require much more inference on the part of the observer.” 

1994: DSM-IV

In 1994, DSM-IV was published, listing 297 disorders in 886 pages. The task force was chaired by Allen Frances. A steering committee of 27 people was introduced, including four psychologists. The steering committee created 13 work groups of 5–16 members. Each work group had approximately 20 advisers. The work groups conducted a three-step process: first, each group conducted an extensive literature review of their diagnoses; then, they requested data from researchers, conducting analyses to determine which criteria required change, with instructions to be conservative; finally, they conducted multicenter field trials relating diagnoses to clinical practice. A major change from previous versions was the inclusion of a clinical significance criterion to almost half of all the categories, which required that symptoms cause “clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning”. Some personality disorder diagnoses were deleted or moved to the appendix.

2000: DSM-IV-Text Revision (TR)

A “text revision” of the DSM-IV, known as the DSM-IV-TR, was published in 2000. The diagnostic categories and the vast majority of the specific criteria for diagnosis were unchanged. The text sections giving extra information on each diagnosis were updated, as were some of the diagnostic codes to maintain consistency with the ICD. The DSM-IV-TR was organized into a five-part axial system. The first axis incorporated clinical disorders. The second axis covered personality disorders and intellectual disabilities. The remaining axes covered medical, psychosocial, environmental, and childhood factors functionally necessary to provide diagnostic criteria for health care assessments.

2013: DSM-5 

The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the DSM-V, was approved by the Board of Trustees of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) on December 1, 2012. Published on May 18, 2013, the DSM-5 contains extensively revised diagnoses and, in some cases, broadens diagnostic definitions while narrowing definitions in other cases. The DSM-5 is the first major edition of the manual in twenty years, and the Roman numerals numbering system has been discontinued to allow for greater clarity in regard to revision numbers. A significant change in the fifth edition is the proposed deletion of the subtypes of schizophrenia. During the revision process, the APA website periodically listed several sections of the DSM-5 for review and discussion.

Categories

The DSM-V is a categorical classification system. The categories are prototypes, and a patient with a close approximation to the prototype is said to have that disorder. DSM-IV states, “there is no assumption each category of mental disorder is a completely discrete entity with absolute boundaries” but isolated, low-grade and noncriterion (unlisted for a given disorder) symptoms are not given importance. Qualifiers are sometimes used, for example mild, moderate or severe forms of a disorder. For nearly half the disorders, symptoms must be sufficient to cause “clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning,” although DSM-IV-TR removed the distress criterion from tic disorders and several of the paraphilias due to their egosyntonic nature. Each category of disorder has a numeric code taken from the ICD coding system, used for health service (including insurance) administrative purposes.

Classifications

Despite caveats in the introduction to the DSM, it has long been argued that its system of classification makes unjustified categorical distinctions between disorders, and uses arbitrary cut-offs between normal and abnormal. A 2009 psychiatric review noted that attempts to demonstrate natural boundaries between related DSM syndromes, or between a common DSM syndrome and normality, have failed. Some argue that rather than a categorical approach, a fully dimensional, spectrum or complaint-oriented approach would better reflect the evidence.

In addition, it is argued that the current approach based on exceeding a threshold of symptoms does not adequately take into account the context in which a person is living, and to what extent there is internal disorder of an individual versus a psychological response to adverse situations. The DSM does include a step (“Axis IV”) for outlining “Psychosocial and environmental factors contributing to the disorder” once someone is diagnosed with that particular disorder.

Because an individual’s degree of impairment is often not correlated with symptom counts, and can stem from various individual and social factors, the DSM’s standard of distress or disability can often produce false positives. On the other hand, individuals who do not meet symptomology may nevertheless experience comparable distress or disability in their life.

Welcome to Your Axis

The DSM-IV organizes each psychiatric diagnosis into five dimensions (axes) relating to different aspects of disorder or disability:

  • Axis I: All psychological diagnostic categories except mental retardation and personality disorder
  • Axis II: Personality disorders and mental retardation
  • Axis III: General medical condition; acute medical conditions and physical disorders
  • Axis IV: Psychosocial and environmental factors contributing to the disorder
  • Axis V: Global Assessment of Functioning or Children’s Global Assessment Scale for children and teens under the age of 18

Common Axis I disorders include depressionanxiety disordersbipolar disorderADHDautism spectrum disordersanorexia nervosabulimia nervosa, and schizophrenia.

Common Axis II disorders include personality disorders: paranoid personality disorderschizoid personality disorderschizotypal personality disorder,borderline personality disorderantisocial personality disordernarcissistic personality disorderhistrionic personality disorderavoidant personality disorder,dependent personality disorderobsessive-compulsive personality disorder; and intellectual disabilities.

Common Axis III disorders include brain injuries and other medical/physical disorders which may aggravate existing diseases or present symptoms similar to other disorders.

WARNINGS (kind of)

The DSM-IV-TR states, because it is produced for the completion of federal legislative mandates, its use by people without clinical training can lead to inappropriate application of its contents. Appropriate use of the diagnostic criteria is said to require extensive clinical training, and its contents “cannot simply be applied in a cookbook fashion”. The APA notes diagnostic labels are primarily for use as a “convenient shorthand” among professionals. The DSM advises laypersons should consult the DSM only to obtain information, not to make diagnoses, and people who may have a mental disorder should be referred to psychological counseling or treatment. Further, a shared diagnosis or label may have different causes or require different treatments; for this reason the DSM contains no information regarding treatment or cause. The range of the DSM represents an extensive scope of psychiatric and psychological issues or conditions, and it is not exclusive to what may be considered “illnesses”.

Citations, please.

The DSM-IV does not specifically cite its sources, but there are four volumes of “sourcebooks” intended to be APA’s documentation of the guideline development process and supporting evidence, including literature reviews, data analyses and field trials. The Sourcebooks have been said to provide important insights into the character and quality of the decisions that led to the production of DSM-IV, and hence the scientific credibility of contemporary psychiatric classification.

How do We Know This is Reliable?

The revisions of the DSM from the 3rd Edition forward have been mainly concerned with diagnostic reliability—the degree to which different diagnosticians agree on a diagnosis. It was argued that a science of psychiatry can only advance if diagnosis is reliable. If clinicians and researchers frequently disagree about a diagnosis with a patient, then research into the causes and effective treatments of those disorders cannot advance. Hence, diagnostic reliability was a major concern of DSM-III. When the diagnostic reliability problem was thought to be solved, subsequent editions of the DSM were concerned mainly with “tweaking” the diagnostic criteria. Unfortunately, neither the issue of reliability (accurate measurement) or validity (do these disorders really exist) was settled. However, most psychiatric education post DSM-III focused on issues of treatment—especially drug treatment—and less on diagnostic concerns. In fact, Thomas R. Insel, M.D., Director of the NIMH, has recently stated the agency would no longer fund research projects that rely exclusively on DSM criteria due to its lack of validity.

Superficial Symptoms

By design, the DSM is primarily concerned with the signs and symptoms of mental disorders, rather than the underlying causes. It claims to collect them together based on statistical or clinical patterns. As such, it has been compared to a naturalist’s field guide to birds, with similar advantages and disadvantages. The lack of a causative or explanatory basis, however, is not specific to the DSM, but rather reflects a general lack of pathophysiological understanding of psychiatric disorders. As DSM-III chief architect Robert Spitzer and DSM-IV editor Michael First outlined in 2005, “little progress has been made toward understanding the pathophysiological processes and etiology of mental disorders. If anything, the research has shown the situation is even more complex than initially imagined, and we believe not enough is known to structure the classification of psychiatric disorders according to etiology.”

The DSM’s focus on superficial symptoms is claimed to be largely a result of necessity (assuming such a manual is nevertheless produced), since there is no agreement on a more explanatory classification system.  Reviewers note, however, that this approach is undermining research, including in genetics, because it results in the grouping of individuals who have very little in common except superficial criteria as per DSM or ICD diagnosis.

Despite the lack of consensus on underlying causation, advocates for specific psychopathological paradigms have nonetheless faulted the current diagnostic scheme for not incorporating evidence-based models or findings from other areas of science. A recent example is evolutionary psychologists’ criticism that the DSM does not differentiate between genuine cognitive malfunctions and those induced by psychological adaptations, a key distinction within evolutionary psychology, but one widely challenged within general psychology. Another example is a strong operationalist viewpoint, which contends that reliance on operational definitions, as purported by the DSM, necessitates that intuitive concepts such as depression be replaced by specific measurable concepts before they are scientifically meaningful. One critic states of psychologists that “Instead of replacing ‘metaphysical’ terms such as ‘desire’ and ‘purpose’, they used it to legitimize them by giving them operational definitions…the initial, quite radical operationalist ideas eventually came to serve as little more than a ‘reassurance fetish’ for mainstream methodological practice.”

A 2013 review published in the European archives of psychiatry and clinical neuroscience states “that psychiatry targets the phenomena of consciousness, which, unlike somatic symptoms and signs, cannot be grasped on the analogy with material thing-like objects.” As an example of the problem of the superficial characterization of psychiatric signs and symptoms, the authors gave the example of a patient saying they “feel depressed, sad, or down,” showing that such a statement could indicate various underlying experiences: “not only depressed mood but also, for instance, irritationanger, loss of meaning, varieties of fatigueambivalenceruminations of different kinds, hyper-reflectivitythought pressure, psychic anxiety, varieties of depersonalization, and even voices with negative content, and so forth.” The structured interview comes with “danger of over confidence in the face value of the answers, as if a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ truly confirmed or denied the diagnostic criterion at issue.” The authors gave an example: A patient who was being administered theStructured Clinical Interview for the DSM-IV Axis I Disorders denied thought insertion, but during a “conversational, phenomenological interview,” a semi-structured interview tailored to the patient, the same patient admitted to experiencing thought insertion, along with a delusional elaboration. The authors suggested 2 reasons for this discrepancy: That the patient didn’t “recognize his own experience in the rather blunt, implicitly either/or formulation of the structured-interview question,” or the experience didn’t “fully articulate itself” until the patient started talking about his experiences.

Bias

Some psychiatrists also argue that current diagnostic standards rely on an exaggerated interpretation of neurophysiological findings and so understate the scientific importance of social-psychological variables. Advocating a more culturally sensitive approach to psychology, critics such as Carl Bell and Marcello Maviglia contend that the cultural and ethnic diversity of individuals is often discounted by researchers and service providers. In addition, current diagnostic guidelines have been criticized as having a fundamentally Euro-American outlook. Although these guidelines have been widely implemented, opponents argue that even when a diagnostic criteria set is accepted across different cultures, it does not necessarily indicate that the underlying constructs have any validity within those cultures; even reliable application can only demonstrate consistency, not legitimacy. Cross-cultural psychiatrist Arthur Kleinman contends that the Western bias is ironically illustrated in the introduction of cultural factors to the DSM-IV: the fact that disorders or concepts from non-Western or non-mainstream cultures are described as “culture-bound”, whereas standard psychiatric diagnoses are given no cultural qualification whatsoever, is to Kleinman revelatory of an underlying assumption that Western cultural phenomena are universal. Kleinman’s negative view toward the culture-bound syndrome is largely shared by other cross-cultural critics, common responses included both disappointment over the large number of documented non-Western mental disorders still left out, and frustration that even those included were often misinterpreted or misrepresented. Many mainstream psychiatrists have also been dissatisfied with these new culture-bound diagnoses, although not for the same reasons. Robert Spitzer, a lead architect of the DSM-III, has held the opinion that the addition of cultural formulations was an attempt to placate cultural critics, and that they lack any scientific motivation or support. Spitzer also posits that the new culture-bound diagnoses are rarely used in practice, maintaining that the standard diagnoses apply regardless of the culture involved. In general, the mainstream psychiatric opinion remains that if a diagnostic category is valid, cross-cultural factors are either irrelevant or are only significant to specific symptom presentations. One of the results was the development of the Azibo Nosology by Daudi Ajani Ya Azibo as an alternative to the DSM to treat African and African American patients.

Medical Model + Financial Conflicts of Interest: Follow the Money

It has also been alleged that the way the categories of the DSM are structured, as well as the substantial expansion of the number of categories, are representative of an increasing medicalization of human nature, which may be attributed to disease mongering by psychiatrists and pharmaceutical companies, the power and influence of the latter having grown dramatically in recent decades. Of the authors who selected and defined the DSM-IV psychiatric disorders, roughly half have had financial relationships with the pharmaceutical industry at one time, raising the prospect of a direct conflict of interest. The same article concludes that the connections between panel members and the drug companies were particularly strong in those diagnoses where drugs are the first line of treatment, such as schizophrenia and mood disorders, where 100% of the panel members had financial ties with the pharmaceutical industry. In 2005, then American Psychiatric Association President Steven Sharfstein released a statement in which he conceded that psychiatrists had “allowed the biopsychosocial model to become the bio-bio-bio model” referring to a significant focus on biology (medical model) vs social and psychological influences.

However, although the number of identified diagnoses has increased by more than 200% (from 106 in DSM-I to 365 in DSM-IV-TR), psychiatrists such as Zimmerman and Spitzer argue it almost entirely represents greater specification of the forms of pathology, thereby allowing better grouping of more similar patients. William Glasser (founder of Reality Therapy and Choice Therapy), however, refers to the DSM as “phony diagnostic categories”, arguing that “it was developed to help psychiatrists – to help them make money”. In addition, the publishing of the DSM, with tightly guarded copyrights, has in itself earned over $100 million for the American Psychiatric Association.

Consumer v Client: Terms of Resentment

A “consumer” is a person who accesses psychiatric services and may have been given a diagnosis from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, while a “survivor” self-identifies as a person who has endured a psychiatric intervention and the mental health system (which may have involved involuntary commitment and involuntary treatment). Some individuals are relieved to find that they have a recognized condition that they can apply a name to and this has led to many people self-diagnosing. Others, however, question the accuracy of the diagnosis, or feel they have been given a “label” that invites social stigma and discrimination (the terms “mentalism” and “sanism” have been used to describe such discriminatory treatment).

Diagnoses can become internalized and affect an individual’s self-identity, and some psychotherapists have found that the healing process can be inhibited and symptoms can worsen as a result. Some members of the psychiatric survivors movement (more broadly the consumer/survivor/ex-patient movement) actively campaign against their diagnoses, or the assumed implications, and/or against the DSM system in general. The Mad Pride movement has been particularly vocal in its criticism of the DSM. Additionally, it has been noted that the DSM often uses definitions and terminology that are inconsistent with a recovery model, and such content can erroneously imply excess psychopathology (e.g. multiple “comorbid” diagnoses) or chronicity.

Criticism 

Psychiatrist Allen Frances has been critical of proposed revisions to the DSM-5. In a 2012 New York Times editorial, Frances warned that if this DSM version is issued unamended by the APA, it will “medicalize normality and result in a glut of unnecessary and harmful drug prescription.” In a December 2, 2012 blog post in Psychology Today, Frances lists the ten “most potentially harmful changes” to DSM-5:

  • Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder, for temper tantrums
  • Major Depressive Disorder, includes normal grief
  • Minor Neurocognitive Disorder, for normal forgetting in old age
  • Adult Attention Deficit Disorder, encouraging psychiatric prescriptions of stimulants
  • Binge Eating Disorder, for excessive eating
  • Autism, defining the disorder more specifically, possibly leading to decreased rates of diagnosis and the disruption of school services
  • First time drug users will be lumped in with addicts
  • Behavioral Addictions, making a “mental disorder of everything we like to do a lot.”
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder, includes everyday worries
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder, changes opening “the gate even further to the already existing problem of misdiagnosis of PTSD in forensic settings.”

Frances and others have published debates on what they see as the six most essential questions in psychiatric diagnosis:

  • are they more like theoretical constructs or more like diseases
  • how to reach an agreed definition
  • whether the DSM-5 should take a cautious or conservative approach
  • the role of practical rather than scientific considerations
  • the issue of use by clinicians or researchers
  • whether an entirely different diagnostic system is required.

In 2011, psychologist Brent Robbins co-authored a national letter for the Society for Humanistic Psychology that has brought thousands into the public debate about the DSM. Approximately 14,000 individuals and mental health professionals have signed a petition in support of the letter. Thirteen otherAmerican Psychological Association divisions have endorsed the petition. Robbins has noted that under the new guidelines, certain responses to grief could be labeled as pathological disorders, instead of being recognized as being normal human experiences.

We hope this history of the DSM provides some thought-provoking information you can use to become a more educated consumer or advocate for someone with mental health issues. 

IECA Webinar: Working for Entitled, Demanding Families Part 1 of 2

On July 9, 2013 Fonthill Counseling Founder and Clinical Director Rob Danzman presented the IECA Webinar Working for Entitled, Demanding Families: Marketing, Customer Service, and Management Strategies. Below are some highlights from his presentation as well as responses to some great questions asked. The full presentation can be heard at at IECA Webinar Series.

1. Clients vs Customers

Focus on Customer Experience: How does you client experience your service from the first phone call or email all the way through till paying the final bill or discharge.

Entire Company is Part of Customer Service and Marketing: The entire company, whether it’s just you and your spouse or a dozen employees – everyone should be coached (…and trained) to act as a cohesive, comprehensive customer service and marketing team. Everyone should know their roles, goals and objectives.

Build Evangelists: Satisfied Families are more valuable than a sales team, advertising campaigns or even speaking gigs. When you satisfy the customer’s expectations, they leave happy. But when you EXCEED customer’s expectations, you turn them in to evangelists. Think about this…When was the last time anyone bragged about their recent Microsoft product? What about an Apple product? One company somewhat satisfies customers while the other generally exceeds expectations.
Reward Dedication with Desired Reinforcer rather than Assumed Reinforcer: Basically, find out what motivates customers. What they want more of and what they desperately want to avoid. This will provide insight into their behavior, goals, thoughts, and feelings. It also offers information on how to leverage customers when they get stuck.

2. Marketing

Connect to 5 Senses (…especially Music and Visuals): Memories, social connections and emotions are highly associated with our senses (ie. Song on the radio triggers flashback to highschool). Use this evidence-based approach on your website, literature and in your sessions to develop strong rapport and make great progress.
Make Them Feel Special (Special Access): Instead of talking about all the families you’ve served, focus on language that makes them feel like they are the only clients you have. Give them your direct cell number. Tell them to call you on weekends and evenings if they need anything. Go above and beyond with giving them access to you and your staff.
They Demand Immediate Response: Make sure to have an internal policy to respond to questions, concerns, and feedback within 24 hrs.
They Demand Quality Behind the Scenes (eg. Granite in Kitchen): When I go to tour therapeutic programs around the country, I insist on checking out the kitchens. Kitchens are great litmus tests for whether a program’s quality goes deep or is just superficial.
Differentiate with Niche, not Consensus: While you want to listen loudly to your customers’ needs, do not let it dictate your services and how you work. The Crysler Minivan was famously denied production when it was first conceived of by an engineer/designer. Crysler management said “No customer is asking us for anything bigger than a station wagon.” Customers don’t know what they really want until you give it to them.
Quality vs. Volume ( CHANEL vs. Old Spice): Similar to Niche vs. Consensus above, focus on a few things you can do really well. Don’t be all things to all people. Don’t focus on volume unless you plan on being the Wal-Mart of your industry.
Educate vs. Selling: Selling something involves pushing a product or service with the not-so-subtle goal of exchanging your goods for their money. Educating a customer involves ignoring the sale and focusing on their needs, wants, fears and goals. It’s a focus on finding congruent solutions between the customer and either something you can provide or someone else’s service. This develops a level of trust unparalleled between customer and professional.
Benefits vs. Price: Similar to above, focus on the benefits and attributes of your services and products rather than price. We rarely discuss price and rarely lower our price. Instead, we keep the conversation about matching the customer’s goals with what we offer.
Make it Exclusive: If everyone had access to purchasing BMW’s (ie. lower costs, cheaper product, etc.) they would not be coveted. Does anyone brag about being able to finally buy their dream Camry? Limit access to your service through pricing strategy, quality and limits to who you work with.
Next time…Check back for Part 2 when we go over Customer Needs vs Wants and Training Yourself and Staff

 

Fonthill Response to Vice Article: AMERICAN TEENS ARE BEING TRAPPED IN ABUSIVE ‘DRUG REHAB CENTRES’

To those outside our field of therapeutic schools and programs, it makes sense that Matt Shea‘s article from May 2013 in Vice titled American Teens are Being Trapped in ‘Abusive Drug Rehab Centres’ is alarming.

To those of us in the field it’s a joke. You can read the whole article here: http://goo.gl/zW43F and judge for yourself. It’s a joke not because it’s inaccurate and not because there are no failures within the industry. It’s a joke because, just like so many other ‘journalists’ he paints a picture with such broad strokes that Mr. Shea fails to really understand the pressures, the people and, as cliche as it may sound, the passion with which so many in this field work. Mr. Shea fails to sort out the fiction from fact.

But how else can a budding journalist get retweeted and get his name out there without this version of quicky-journalism? Had Mr. Shea visited programs like many of us in the mental health and educational consulting world do, he would quickly meet and have experiences  which deepen his 2 dimensional paradigm. He would have been driven out into the remote and hot Utah desert to meet with small groups of teens guided by thoughtful and well-trained staff working on individual enrichment projects. He would leave thankful he never had to endure a Spring or Summer like they do yet, somehow, understands that this programming is providing a level of nurturing and structure significantly lacking in their home lives.

Let’s address the reference and correlation Mr. Shea makes between the therapeutic industry and Josh Shipp of MTV fame. Let’s revisit part of Mr. Shea’s article now…

Shipp is your classic Jerry Springer brand of therapist – no real qualifications, a huge ego and a penchant for money and entertaining TV over science and genuine psychology. “I’m a teen behaviour specialist,” he says in the intro. “My approach is gritty, gutsy and in your face.”

If he had actually spent time with Josh Shipp AND real mental/behavioral health and substance abuse professionals – he would very quickly understand that Mr. Shipp (…Mr. is used loosely here) does not represent the values of folks in this industry, an industry that is run by licensed clinicians and professionals. Mr. Shipp is nothing more than a court jester providing entertainment. He’s a monkey with two cymbals making noise and no signal for his ‘edgy’ reality-TV pushers at MTV (MTV is still around?). Occasionally, I’m sure there are teens and even parents (and maybe the rare delusion clinician) that hear the Shipp-Clown-message and it connects with them – changing their lives forever. But an overwhelming majority spend no more energy than a giggle or slight frown. Mr. Shipp does not have a degree, license or any sort of evidence-based training. He graduated from “Life Experience College” which sounds ‘super cool’ to the teens and teen parents he markets his wares to but there is no depth. He’s a can of soda full of empty calories. The therapeutic industry and Mr. Shipp are as polar-opposite as a Kardashian and Bill Moyers. And yes, we recognize as cold as it may sound, it’s an industry.  Just like cancer treatment, just like teaching, and just like daycare. If it were not an industry and did not have the same oversight as other industries, there would be little oversight. Trust me, you want therapy to be part of an industry. Industrialization provides codes of conduct, ethical guidelines, evidence-based treatment standards, inter-disciplinary work and research. NATSAP is an example of this type of self-imposed quality control.

FYI – Therapeutic wilderness programs are not boot camps. Therapeutic boarding schools are not military schools. There may have been some greedy, old-school meat-heads that sold parents on boot camps decades ago, but in the therapeutic world, those non-clinical programs as a laughable as Josh Shipp which may be why he talks about them in his MTV show. Boot camps and military schools are dying out and, thankfully, being replaced by sophisticated, evidence-based programs with transparency and clinical integrity. Not every program is awesome but, neither is every physician or dentist.

Mr. Shea, I make a challenge to you. Join me on a tour to visit 5 therapeutic programs. Together, you and I will kick the tires, dig through the closets and truly get to the bottom of whether this universe of programs is as detrimental as you propose. We’ll spend 2 days out in the back-country, in storage rooms with gear, and circled up in treatment centers. After that, I challenge you to write the same article blasting this world that has helped so many families. Not likely to happen.

Boot Camp and Therapeutic Wilderness Programs: Part 1: History, Myths and Reality

Ahhh, the boot camp. Good ‘ole fashioned behavior modification through discipline, intimidation and fear. It was the era of Tough Love. The boot camp’s sordid history stems from our collective belief that all kids need when they’re acting out is an experience more like what the military provided (past tense is key here since the military no longer uses ‘boot camp’ tactics in basic training – They found it to be counterproductive). What may come as no surprise is that these bastions of verbal ballistics just were not (…and continue not to be) effective.

Once associated almost exclusively with the initial weeks of military indoctrination, the term “boot camp” has, in recent years, come to be adopted by programs that want to emphasize the rapidity and intensity of their experience.

From computer boot camps (become a certified systems engineer in one week!) to fitness boot camps (10 sessions to a Bigger, Stronger you!) to weight loss boot camps (shed those pounds in a fraction of the time!), the boot camp phenomenon seems to be particularly appropriate for the members of today’s overscheduled, not-a-moment-to-waste society that need their butt kicked.

But while many so-called boot camps are actually little more than sped-up seminars, the intense, intimidating, and “in your face” philosophy (think the first hour of the film “Full Metal Jacket”) still permeates at least one type of non-military boot camp: the juvenile boot camp for troubled teens.

A Rigorous Road to Redemption?

The boot camp approach began to cross over from the military world to the civilian population in the early 1980s, when boot camp programs were created as alternatives to incarceration for certain adult and juvenile offenders.

According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the first boot camp for adult offenders was established in Georgia in 1983. Two years later, Orleans Parish, Louisiana, became home to the first juvenile boot camp.

According to information on the OJJDP website, most juvenile boot camps (and the majority of boot camps for adult offenders) feature the following components:

• Boot camps almost always include rigorous physical conditioning and other forms of physical labor.
• An emphasis is placed upon discipline, which is usually enforced through a military-like code of rules and regulations.
• Teen boot camp participants usually have been convicted of nonviolent crimes, or have been referred to the boot camp by parents in an effort to curb unhealthy and illegal behaviors.
• Teen boot camps are usually intense short-term experiences (rarely lasting longer than six months) after which the troubled teen is returned to the community.
• Depending upon the nature of the boot camp, the teen may be required (or encouraged) to submit to a post-camp supervision program or enroll in an aftercare program.

More Boot Camps for Teens in Trouble

In the early part of the 1990s, OJJDP provided funding for a pilot program consisting of three juvenile boot camps – one each in Cleveland, Ohio; Mobile, Alabama; and Denver, Colorado. Information provided by the National Criminal Justice Reverence Service (NCJRS) indicates that these three OJJDP-funded teen boot camps were “designed to address the special needs and circumstances of the adolescent offender.”

The NCJRS website provided the following details about these three juvenile boot camps:

• The OJJDP’s juvenile boot camps were designed for a target population of adjudicated, nonviolent offenders under the age of 18.
• The pilot boot camps for teens included highly structured, three-month residential programs that were followed by six to nine months of community-based aftercare.
• During the aftercare period, youth who had completed the juvenile boot camps were to pursue academic and vocational training or employment while under intensive, but progressively diminishing, supervision.

Though the juveniles who completed these pilot program boot camps were found to have improved in certain academic areas, an OJJDP “Lessons Learned” document reports that the teen boot camps had no impact on reducing recidivism rates (that is, decreasing the odds that a juvenile would re-offend after completing the boot camp):

The pilot programs, however, did not demonstrate a reduction in recidivism. … In Cleveland pilot program participants evidenced a higher recidivism rate than juvenile offenders confined in traditional juvenile correctional facilities.

It should be noted that none of the sites fully implemented OJJDP’s model juvenile boot camp guidelines, and that some critical aftercare support services were not provided.

This observation was echoed in a 1996 report (Boot Camps for Juvenile Offenders: An Implementation Evaluation of Three Demonstration Programs) that was prepared for the National Institute of Justice:

What appeared to be a promising prognosis at the conclusion of boot camp disintegrated during aftercare. All three programs were plagued by high attrition rates for noncompliance, absenteeism, and new arrests during the aftercare period. …

In all fairness to the programs, aftercare was particularly affected by unexpected cuts in Federal support. … However, at this juncture it does not appear that the demonstration programs solved the problem that typically plagues residential correctional programs: inmates who appear to thrive in the institutional environment but falter when they return home.

‘Therapeutic’ Boot Camps for Troubled Teens?

Though the boot camp model appears to have been less than successful in its efforts to effect long-term positive change among adjudicated young people, this failure has not stopped the concept from spreading. For example, a number of private programs continue to market teen boot camp services to parents who are concerned about their children’s behavior.

Why do boot camps remain an attractive option for some parents? The National Institute of Justice’s 1996 Boot Camps for Juvenile Offenders report indicates that this popularity may be due in large part to certain media-fueled attitudes about the power of “getting tough” with troubled teens:

• In addition to their considerable popularity within the correctional system, boot camps have demonstrated extraordinary appeal to the general public.
• Experts on boot camp programming nationwide note that boot camps are a “natural” for media coverage, which tends to focus on the programs’ disciplinary aspects and appeals to “get tough” sentiments.
• In a culture where many people view military service as a formative experience, the public also seems to intuitively grasp the rehabilitative rationale for the programs.

An alternative to the juvenile boot camp approach can be found in therapeutic wilderness programs for troubled teens, which emphasize non-abusive techniques while still providing a series of challenging opportunities through which struggling teens can develop valuable skills, communication strategies, and self-esteem.

Emphasizing responsibility to oneself and one’s family and community, and providing a significant therapeutic component, strong family involvement, and considerable aftercare support services, wilderness programs for troubled teens are founded upon the philosophy that teen mental health challenges are not “quick fix” problems.

Unlike the top-down control that is a hallmark of the juvenile boot camp approach, wilderness programs for troubled teens help participants identify their own problems, take responsibility for their past failures and frustrations, and decide that they want to make healthy changes.

New Generation Using Wilderness – Not Brutality

Thanks to visionaries that saw the benefits of using wilderness and adventure as a context, strategy, metaphor and intervention for behavioral, mental health and substance abuse issues, we have seen a significant move away from the Boot Camp to the Therapeutic Wilderness Program. Some of the big names in the field started with Kurt Hahn (1886-1974) who started Outward Bound, then decades later we saw the influence of Larry D. Olsen and Ezekiel C. Sanchez at Brigham Young University; Nelson Chase, Steven Bacon, and others at the Colorado Outward Bound School; Rocky Kimball at Santa Fe Mountain Center.

This pivot away from Boot Camp and towards therapeutic intervention led many programs to adopt the very successful recipe of a series of tasks that are increasingly difficult in order to challenge the patients; teamwork activities for working together; the presence of therapist as a group leader; and the use of an evidence-based (eg. CBT) therapeutic process such as a journal or self-reflection.

Next Time: A look at some of the types of therapeutic wilderness programming being offered and what the research says.